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Tomato Research

The Coastal Research and Education Center (CREC) has been involved in tomato production on the barrier islands along the Atlantic Coast since the mid-1930's. In 2014, South Carolina ranked sixth in the nation in production of fresh market tomatoes that were harvested on 3,200 acres. Tomatoes are grown in all 46 counties; production is concentrated along the southern coast and in the north-central foothills. In addition, several hundred acres of processing tomatoes are grown on the coastal plain, and there are 25 greenhouse tomato operations in the state. To supply current market preferences, round, roma, cherry, and grape tomatoes are produced.

Horticulturists at CREC introduced modern cultural practices to the South Carolina tomato industry, including polyethylene mulch to promote early growth, block weeds, and maintain even levels of soil moisture. The stake-and-weave method of tying plants with four levels of string was adopted, because it reduced fruit rot and made hand harvesting easier. Drip irrigation and fertigation promoted even growth and reduced foliar diseases and fruit cracking.

The 'Homestead' tomato, developed at CREC in 1966, is still grown for it's tolerance to heat and humidity. In the 1990s and early 2000s the CREC pathologist and horticulturist cooperated with the tomato breeder at North Carolina State University to test breeding lines adapted to coastal conditions. Each year, three or more on-farm trials were set out to evaluate traits such as overall yield, ability to set fruit at high night temperatures, and resistance to bacterial spot and tomato spotted wilt virus.

The former South Carolina Tomato Association was instrumental in developing and running a scouting program for member growers and promoting Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. The CREC entomologist and plant pathologist supported the IPM program by validating scouting thresholds for insects and diseases, confirming disease identifications made by scouts in the field, and recommending reduced-risk insecticides that were safe to apply along tidal creeks and coastal waterways.

More recently, CREC scientists have evaluated processing tomato varieties, compared soil fumigants, and tested fungicides to manage Southern blight, all in support of the South Carolina tomato industry.